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"You hare among you many a purchased slare."
Act IV., Scene 1. Johnson observes :-"This argument, considered as used to the particular persons, seems conclusive. I see not how Venetians or Englishmen, while they practise the purchase and sale of slaves, can much enforce or demand the law of doing to others as we would that they should do to us." The rugged philanthropist, we may venture to add, would have been proud to commemorate, had he lived in these days, the long and strenuous efforts by which the stigma of sanctioning slavery has been totally and finally removed from his countrymen.
"With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,
And draw her home with music."-Act V., Scene 1. Shakspere, I believe, was here thinking of the custom of accompanying the last wagon-load, at the end of harvest, with rustic music. He again alludes to this yet common practice in “ As You LIKE IT."-MALONE.
Do but nole a wild and wanton herd,
Act V., Scene 1. A similar thought to this occurs in “THE TEMPEST:"
--" Then I beat my tabor, At which, like unbacked colts, they pricked their ears, Advanced their eyelids, lifted up their noses, As they smelt music."
"O, be thou damned, inexorable dog!"-Act IV., Scene 1.
The old copies read "inexecrable." Corrected by the editor of the third folio; perhaps, however, unnecessarily. In was sometimes used, in composition, as an augmentative or intensive particle..
"If this will not suffice, it must appear
That malice bears down truth"-Act IV., Scene 1. That is, malice oppresses honesty. A true man, in old language, is an honest man. We now call the jury good men and true.
" In christening lhou shalt have two godfathers;
Act IV., Scene 1. Meaning, a jury of twelve men, to condemn thee to be hanged. In an old “DIALOGUE” by Dr. Bulleyne (1564), one of the speakers, to shew his mean opinion of an ostler at an inn, says :-"I did see him ask blessing to twelve godfathers at once."
" The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
When every goose is cackling, would be thought
Act V., Scene 1. In Shakspere's 102nd Sonnet, there is a beautiful passage of like import :“Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days.
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night;
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight."
“I humbly do desire your grace of pardon."
Act. IV., Scene 1. This was an old form of expression. It occurs in "OTHELLO:"-"I humbly do beseech you of your pardon."
“We should hold day with the Antipodes,
Act V., Scene 1 That is, if you would walk in the night, it would be day with us, as it now is on the other side of the globe.
"She doth stray about
For happy wedlock hours."- Act V., Scene 1. Allusion to the “crosses," then so common in the country, is made in the "MERRIE DeviL OF EDMONTON" (1608):"But there are crosses, wife: here's one in Waltham, Another at the abbey, and the third At Ceston; and 't is ominous to pass Any of these without a paternoster."
"Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Act V., Scene 1. A "patine," from the Latin patina, is the small flat dish or plate used with the chalice, in the administration of the eucharist. In the papal times, and probably in the following age, it was commonly made of gold, or silver-gilt.
In 1579, Stephen Gosson published a tract entitled "THE SCHOOL OF ABUSE, containing a pleasant invective against poets, pipers, players, jesters, and such like caterpillars of the commonwealth." From the general censure passed by the wrathful author on stage-plays, he excepts several, one of which he thus designates :- "The Jew, shewn at the Bull, representing the greediness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers." It has been supposed that this old play was the immediate original of “THE MERCHANT OF VENICE;" but we should not be warranted in coming to any conclusion on the point, from the slight evidence afforded by the mere title of the more ancient drama.
The incident of the bond is probably of Eastern origin; it first appeared in Europe in a collection of tales, called “IL PECORONE," by Giovanni, a Florentine, whose works were published at Milan in 1550.
According to the novelist, Gianneto obtains permission from his godfather, Ansaldo, to travel to Alexandria; but changes his mind, in the hope of gaining a lady of great wealth and beauty at Belmont, whose hand is proffered to him who can obtain a premature enjoyment of the connubial rites. Overpowered with sleep, occasioned by a narcotic given him in his wine, he fails in his enterprise, and his vessel and cargo are forfeited. Another ship is equipped, which he loses in a second attempt; and a third is made at the expense of his godfather, who borrows ten thousand ducats from a Jew, on condition that if they are not returned by a stipulated day, the lender may cut a pound of flesh from any part of the debtor's body.
Gianneto obtains the lady; but lost in delight with his bride, forgets Ansaldo's bond till the very day it becomes due. He hastens to Venice, but the time is past, and the usurer refuses ten times the value of the bond. Gianneto's
“Such harmony is in immortal souls ;
But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Act V., Scene 1. The last of these lines is, perhaps, slightly corrupt. For “it in,” Mr. Singer proposes to read “us in;" and this we think is the true reading. It is supported by Milton's imitation of the passage, in his “ ARCADES:"
"Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie,
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
naturally directed chiefly against those Christians who possess truly Christian sentiments : the example of disinterested love of our neighbour, seems to him the most unrelenting persecution of the Jews. The letter of the law is his idol; he refuses to lend an ear to the voice of mercy, which speaks to him from the mouth of Portia with heavenly eloquence : he insists on severe and inflexible justice, and it at last recoils on his own head. Here he becomes a symbol of the general history of his unfortunate nation.
The melancholy and self-neglectful magnanimity of Antonio is affectingly sublime. Like a royal merchant, he is surrounded with a whole train of noble friends. The contrast which this forms to the selfish cruelty of the usurer Shylock, was necessary to redeem the honour of human nature.
The judgment scene, with which the fourth act is occupied, is alone a perfect drama, concentrating in itself the interest of the whole. The knot is now untied, and, according to the common idea, the curtain might drop. But the poet was unwilling to dismiss his audience with the gloomy impressions which the delivery of Antonio, accomplished with so much difficulty, contrary to all expectation, and the punishment of Shylock, were calculated to leave behind: he has, therefore, added the fifth act, by way of a musical afterpiece in the play itself. The episode of Jessica, the fugitive daughter of the Jew, in whom Shakspere has contrived to throw a disguise of sweetness over the national features, and the artifice by which Portia and her companion are enabled to rally their newly-married husbands, supply him with materials.
The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a summer moonlight :
“When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees." It is followed by soft music, and a rapturous eulogy on this powerful disposer of the human mind and the world. The principal characters then make their appearance; and, after an assumed dissension, which is elegantly carried on, the whole ends with the most exhilarating mirth.-SCHLEGEL.
In Percy's “RELIQUES OF ANCIENT POETRY," there is a Ballad called “A new Song, shewing the cruelty of Gernutus, a Jew; who, lending to a Merchant an hundred Crowns, would have a pound of his flesh, because he could not pay him at the time appointed." This production is supposed by Warton and other competent judges to have been written before Shakspere's play; and it seems not unlikely that the poet derived various hints from it, more particularly from those parts which speak of the “merry jest” and the "whetted blade.” Three of the more relevant stanzas are subjoined by way of specimen :
“No penny for the loan of it
For one year you shall pay:
Before my dying day.
For to be talkéd long :
That shall be large and strong.
lady arrives at this crisis, and causes it to be announced that she can resolve difficult questions of law. Consulted in the case of Ansaldo, she decides that the Jew must have his pound of flesh, but that he shall lose his head if he cut more or less, or draws one drop of blood. The Jew relinquishes his demand, and Ansaldo is released. The bride will not receive money as a recompense, but desires Gianneto's wedding ring, which he gives her. The lady arrives at home before her husband, and immediately asks for her ring, which he being unable to produce, she upbraids him with having given it to some mistress. At length Gianneto's sorrow affects his wife, and she explains the particulars of her journey and disguise.—This story may have been translated into English in Shakspere's time, but if so, the version has not hitherto been discovered.
The incident of the caskets appears to be founded on a story in the English version of the “GESTA ROMANORUM," a collection formerly in high repute. Mr. Douce has written an able treatise on this work, and gives an analysis of the 99th chapter, which he thinks is obviously the story which supplied the caskets of the "MERCHANT OF VENICE."
A marriage was proposed between the son of Anselmus, Emperor of Rome, and the daughter of the King of Apulia. The young lady in her voyage was shipwrecked and swallowed by a whale. In this situation, she contrived to make a fire and to wound the animal with a knife, so that he was driven towards the shore, and slain by an earl named Pirius, who delivered the princess and took her under his protection. On relating her story, she was conveyed to the emperor. In order to prove whether she was worthy the hand of his son, he placed before her three vessels. The first was of gold, and filled with dead-men's bones: on it was this inscription :-"Who chooses me shall find what he deserves." The second was of silver, filled with earth, and thus inscribed :-“Who chooses me shall find what nature covets." The third vessel was of lead, but filled with precious stones, it had this inscription:-“Who chooses me shall find what God has placed." The emperor then commanded her to choose one of the vessels, informing her that if she made choice of that which should profit herself and others, she would obtain his son: if of what should profit neither herself nor others, she would lose him. The princess, after praying for assistance, preferred the leaden vessel. The emperor informed her that she had chosen as he wished, and immediately united her with his son.
The "MERCIANT OF VENICE" is one of Shakspere's most perfect works : popular to an extraordinary degree, and calculated to produce the most powerful effect on the stage ; and at the same time, a wonder of ingenuity and art for the reflecting critic. Shylock, the Jew, is one of the inconceivable masterpieces of characterisation of which Shakspere alone furnishes us with examples. It is easy for the poet and the player to exhibit a caricature of national sentiments, modes of speaking, and gestures. Shylock, however, is everything but a common Jew: he possesses a very determinate and original individuality, and yet we perceive a slight touch of Judaism in everything which he says and does. We imagine we hear a sprinkling of the Jewish pronunciation in the mere written words, as we still sometimes find it in the higher classes of that people, notwithstanding their social refinement. In tranquil situations, what is foreign to the European blood and Christian sentiments is less perceivable; but in passion the national stamp appears more strongly marked. All these inimitable niceties the finished art of a great actor can alone properly express.
Shylock is a man of information, even a thinker in his own way; he has only not discovered the region where human feelings dwell: his morality is founded on the disbelief in goodness and magnanimity. The desire of revenging the oppressions and humiliations suffered by his nation, is, after avarice, his principal spring of action. His hate is
The bloody Jew now ready is,
With whetted blade in hand,
By forfeit of his bond,” &c. It were useless further to pursue the search for Shakspere's authorities. The story of the cruel creditor and of his defeat seems to have been told in as many regions, East and West, as that of Parnell's “HERMIT," and in as great variety of forms. In the “MERCHANT OF VENICE" we have it finally embalmed, in its most striking and instructive aspect.
ARIEGATED, light, and splendid as though woven in the
woof of Iris, the wondrous texture of this enchanting Dream is yet of stamina to last till doomsday. “Such tricks hath strong imagination!" Like gravitation in the substantial world, its influence pervades the whole domain of moral nature, and compels materials apparently the most discordant to revolve in harmony round one bright vivifying centre. Never was this divine impulsive property of intellect more finely exemplified than in the Elysian scene that here presents itself. The stately heroes and heroines of Grecian story move in soft unison with the beautiful crea
tions of the Gothic mythology-quaint, rich, and fantastic as the ornaments of our matchless Gothic fanes ; while all are bound up and blended with a plenteous exhibition of the joys and the sorrows, the constancy and the faithfulness, the sense and the absurdity, that in every age and every clime have characterised our inconsistent, yet exalted human nature.
Theseus and his Amazonian love, although invested, for the most part, with an air of classic coldness, at times give indications of being instinct with Shaksperian fire. There is a fine touch of feminine feeling in Hippolyta’s expressed dislike " to see wretchedness o'ercharged, and duty in his service perishing." The answer of Theseus breathes the very spirit of a generous philosophy. Their conversation, too, while preparing for the chace, is animated with a glowing sense of animal enjoyment that rises into strenuous poetry. Altogether, these warlike lovers present a very gratifying specimen of the heroic character in repose.
The language of the amorous “human mortals," while doomed to illustrate the pathetic adage that "the course of true love never did run smooth,” is fraught with sweetness gathered from the purest flowers of Parnassus. "- The pains and pleasures, the exalting and debasing influences of the universal passion, are delineated with surpassing truth and beauty. Under its resistless spell, the charming Helena betrays her friend, for the sake of a short-lived interview with her revolted and contemptuous lover. Her subsequent unshaken patience, however, and exquisite expostulation with Hermia, amply atone for the solitary error springing from that intoxication of the heart and brain which deprives its victims of discretion, and too often of their self-respect, at the precise moment when they have most occasion for support and admonition.
While basking in the moonlight fairy scenes, the luxurious fancy seems to inhale the very odours of “the spiced Indian air;” or, sweeter still, to drink the balmy influence of that “luscious woodbine" which forms Titania's most appropriate canopy.—Puck, the “shrewd and knavish sprite," who finds a sport in lovers' agonising janglings, is beautifully discriminated from Ariel, who pities mortal miseries, and instigates his master to relieve them. Still the “merry wanderer of the night” is delightful and exhilarating company: his sportive malice, controlled by the beneficent Oberon, is productive of infinite diversion ; we easily forgive his elvish ridicule of pangs and raptures he is alike incapable of feeling, and for the moment heartily subscribe to his satiric dictum,—“Lord, what fools these mortals be !"
The “hempen homespuns” who are so marvellously intermixed with the superior intelligences of the drama, are all admirable workers in their tiny spheres,-from Peter Quince, the business-like manager, who really seems to have half an idea in his head, and contents himself with the humble role of Thisbe's father-up (or down) to ostentatious " Bully Bottom," the twinkling cynosure of all his meek competitors. The union of broad humour with poetic fancy was never perhaps so admirably effected as in the scenes in which this "shallowest thickskin of that barren sort” receives, as a mere thing of course, the enthusiastic courtship of the Queen of Fairyland.—“A very good piece of work, and a merry."
There were two quarto editions of the “Midsummer Night's Dream" (both published in 1600), previous to its appearance in the folio collection.